Chesterfield education group calls on state leaders for help navigating COVID-19

Education

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Chesterfield education group is calling on state leaders to step in and offer guidance for school re-opening plans.

The group, Chesterfield Educators United, is a local affiliate of Virginia Educators United, a grassroots coalition formed in 2018.

Chesterfield Educators United penned a letter to Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty, Gov. Ralph Northam, State Superintendent of Public Intervention James Lane, and State Secretary of Education Atif Qarni.

The group said Chesterfield County Public Schools “has pursued a reckless, chaotic, secretive process that endangers not only CCPS students, teachers, and families, but also the entire Chesterfield County community.”

In a response to 8News, a spokesperson for Chesterfield County Public Schools said their approach has been “very transparent and inclusive” and they continue to follow guidance by the Centers for Disease Control, Virginia Department of Health and local risk management team.

Last week, the final group of Chesterfield students, 6 through 12th graders, was able to return to the classroom for the hybrid learning plan. In a split vote, the school board decided the COVID-19 numbers were not concerning enough to pause the re-opening process, which caused backlash from several teachers.

“We want to care and reach every single student, but it is nearly impossible in the virtual and face-to-face setting,” Christine Melendez, a Spanish teacher at Matoaca High School and member of Chesterfield Educators United, said.

Melendez said the group’s major concern is the lack of guidance given to localities on regulating the re-opening of schools. “Moving back to the virtual setting at least until the next semester would be the most ideal,” Melendez told 8News.

She cited other districts, like Henrico, which delayed the start of in-person learning because of rising COVID-19 numbers.

“It is hard to understand why other localities are able to make those decisions, but for some reason our school system doesn’t want to make that decision to honor, respect and appreciate the people who have remained. We’ve lost a lot of employees in the last six months, including teachers of the year,” said Melendez.

In the response from CCPS, a spokesperson said, “the decisions made to return students to a hybrid model of in-person learning were based on scientific data and public health input.”

In the letter, the group is also requiring a one-week return to virtual learning after Thanksgiving and winter breaks, an option for teachers with medical needs to teach virtually, improved guidelines for schools experiencing positive COVID-19 tests and support for teachers who are advocating for these measures.

In an email sent to families on Friday, Superintendent Daugherty addressed the possibility of a return to full online learning.

If the rolling 7-day average of new cases reaches 25, in-person learning will be paused. According to the Virginia Department of Health, that number sits at 20.2.

Read the full letter sent to state leaders by Chesterfield Educators United below:

Read the full response from Chesterfield County Public Schools below:

Our goal remains to create a safe, supportive and nurturing learning environment for our students and staff members. We continue to implement guidance and recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Virginia Department of Health and the local Risk Management team.

Our approach to operating during COVID-19 has been very transparent and inclusive. The School Board and school division have held numerous town halls, held biweekly Board meetings/work sessions, shared updates nearly weekly with staff and families, and created a COVID-19 landing page on our website with all of our information among other things.

The decisions made to return students to a hybrid model of in-person learning were based on scientific data and public health input. We do understand that not everyone will agree with the decisions that are made.

Since our schools reopened for Cohort No. 1 students in late September, we have only seen two cases of community spread in our schools. Those individuals who have been sick largely contracted the virus outside of the school setting.

The school division last week shared that the decisions we will consider regarding reverting to an all-virtual learning environment also will be based on public health data.

The claim that the school division “is hiding the number of teachers who have had their ADA requests denied (a number perhaps in the hundreds)” is reckless. The following information was provided to a resident under the Freedom of Information Act (state law):

How many employees have requested ADA accommodations?

189 completed ADA requests. (347 total individuals inquired but only 189 have submitted and completed their necessary paperwork as of Nov. 4, 2020.)

How many have been approved?

170 out of the 189 completed ADA requests have been approved.

Spokesperson, Chesterfield County Public Schools

The Chesterfield Education Association, a teachers union which many Chesterfield Educators United members are a part of, sent the following statement to 8News:

The Chesterfield Education Association, after monitoring the community data, affirms the following:

1. Cohorts 3 and 4 pulled back to virtual status until the county is below a 3 on the safety metric scale, for a period of 14 consecutive days, using the previously established metric system.

2. The safety of cohorts 1-2 should be reevaluated.

3. A smart restart focusing on safety, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.

4. Teachers involved in decision making procedure to return and what return looks like.

5. A virtual option extended to employees who choose it.

6. A town hall for teachers to field questions to Central Office/School Board before returning.

The health, safety, and well being of all students, their families, and the employees of Chesterfield County Public Schools is paramount.

Sonia M. Smith, CEA President

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